New FBI records connecting Saudis who lived in Sarasota before 9/11 to "individuals associated with the terrorist attacks" has spurred a renewed push to find out whether the al Qaeda suicide hijackers who killed almost 3,000 people had help.
"One question that has gone unanswered through the investigation of 9/11 is, 'Did the hijackers operate alone or did they have accomplices who facilitated their ability to act?' " said former Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla. "I think the information we have now makes a very strong case that they did."
Graham, co-chair of Congress' Joint Inquiry into the attacks a decade ago, met Tuesday with Senate Intelligence Committee member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., to discuss disclosures in the FBI records released to BrowardBulldog.org.
A former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Graham believes a new investigation is now needed to get the truth.
Never miss a local story.
"My goal is to have the investigation reopened and do a full inquiry into the Saudi aspects and then make the results available to the American people," Graham said.
Such an inquiry should not be led by the FBI, Graham said.
"They are the ones who have significantly been responsible for us not knowing
10 years ago what the Saudi role was by withholding information and withholding witnesses," he said.
"He's very interested in getting to the bottom of the events in Sarasota," said Graham, who plans to meet with senior President Barack Obama administration officials next week in Washington.
"The fact is that most of the hijackers spoke no English and had not been in the United States before, yet were able to carry out a very complicated plot while maintaining anonymity," said Graham. "What we've discovered in Sarasota may be another step toward exposing a larger network of Saudi-related individuals who assisted the hijackers."
The FBI records provide new information about an investigation into what took place prior to 9/11 at the upscale home of Abdulaziz al-Hijji and his family in the gated community of Prestancia. Information in the records contradicts prior FBI statements that no evidence was found connecting the al-Hijjis to 9/11.
The names of individuals were redacted before the reports were made public, but are apparent because the documents describe unique, known events. The records were released in response to a specific request for information about the probe at al-Hijji's former residence at 4224 Escondito Cir.
Agents determined the al-Hijjis "fled" their home on Aug. 27, 2001 -- two weeks before the attacks -- leaving behind three cars, furniture, clothing, toys, food and other items.
BrowardBulldog.org previously reported that a counterintelligence officer speaking on condition of anonymity said an FBI examination of gatehouse log books and photos of license tags revealed that vehicles linked to the future hijackers visited al-Hijji's residence. Telephone records also reportedly showed indirect ties to the hijackers.
FBI agent Gregory Sheffield was the lead agent on the case. He wrote two 2002 reports that have been released, including one citing connections between al-Hijji and others tied to the attacks, the counterterrorism official said. Sheffield's name is blanked out of the FBI documents, too.
Agent Sheffield took the Sarasota files, apparently including the gatehouse and phone records, with him when he departed to his new, more-secretive FBI position.
Much remains unclear. Chunks of the released reports are blanked out for national security and other reasons. Four pages were withheld in their entirety.
Graham believes what happened in Sarasota points to the idea that there was a broader support network of Saudis who provided aid and sympathy for the future hijackers.
Graham cites a "common outline" with events in San Diego involving Khalid al-Mihdar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, two of five Saudi hijackers aboard the American Airlines jet flown into the Pentagon.
The Joint Inquiry and 9/11 Commission reports describe how Omar al-Bayoumi, another Saudi living in San Diego, provided extensive assistance al-Mihdar and al-Hazmi, including housing.
One report said al-Bayoumi had access to "seemingly unlimited funding from Saudi Arabia" and that "one of the FBI's best sources in San Diego" reported al-Bayoumi appeared to be an intelligence officer for Saudi Arabia or another foreign power. The FBI also learned that al-Bayoumi "has connections to terrorist elements," the report said.
"There is no evidence that Bayoumi knew what was going on; just that he'd been told to take care of these men," said Graham, who has criticized the FBI for withholding key information about what happened in San Diego.
Dan Christensen is the editor of Broward Bulldog. Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan, who also contributed to this article, are co-authors of "The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden."